Oceans account for 70% of the earth’s surface, which plays a pivotal role in the health of our planet and those who inhabit it. The well-being of the ocean and mankind are inseparably connected but unfortunately, over time, human activities have severely polluted the marine environment.
Marine pollution has become a global issue impending our environment, health, and economies. It knows no boundaries. Marine pollution as defined by the United Nations Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution (GESAMP) is the “Introduction by man, directly or indirectly, of substances or energy into the marine environment (including estuaries) resulting in such deleterious effects as harm to living resources, hazards to human health, hindrance to marine activities including fishing, impairment of quality for use of seawater and reduction of amenities”. Today, the most common contaminants polluting the marine environment are sewage, oil spills, solid wastes, pesticides, trace metals, and plastics.
In order to control the use and exploitation of the oceans, the UN has taken considerable actions through several international conventions, agreements and treaties. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which took place from 1973 to 1982, lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. The United Nations Environment Program, particularly through its Regional Seas Programme, acts to protect oceans and seas and promote the environmentally sound use of marine resources.
Marine Pollution in India
Fig 1: Yamuna River Image source: The Indian Express
In the Water Quality Index, India is placed 120th amongst 122 countries, with nearly 70% of water being contaminated. The position is evident enough to show how dreadful the marine condition is in India. Contamination of river and lake water is increasingly becoming common in the country. The rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra hold deep religious significance but the alarming levels of pollutants and sewage waste discharged in them every day coerced them into becoming one of the most polluted rivers in the world. The National River Conservation Plan has been launched by the Government of India to resolve the country’s water pollution. Other than NRCP, the Ministry of Jal Shakti implemented the Central Sector Scheme of Namami Gange for the rejuvenation of the river Ganga and its tributaries. Meanwhile, for the conservation of lakes and wetlands in the country, the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change has implemented the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems (NPCA) on a cost-sharing basis.
The Indian Ocean offers enormous space to promote the health and harmony of the coastal, island, and inland nations of South Asia and beyond. Despite having tremendous significance in the international domain- it is placed as the 2nd most polluted Ocean in the world after the North Pacific. To tackle this issue, all the eight nations of South Asia are coming together with their own marine environmental monitoring program to understand and assess the status of the marine environment. One such project is the ‘Plastic-free Rivers and Seas for South Asia’ which aims to help build a circular economy for plastic that will stop ‘plastic waste’ from leaking into the environment. Given the strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, South Asian nations need to pursue their aspirations to promote health and harmony in the Indian Ocean.
Indian Navy’s contribution to reducing environmental footprint
Since India has been endowed with a vast marine ecosystem and biodiversity- the Indian Navy has embarked on a journey to reduce its environmental footprint by minimising marine pollution, sustainable consumption and use of alternative sources of energy. The ‘Indian Navy Environment Conservation Roadmap’ has been the guiding light for this cause.
With the aim of reducing pollution from engine exhausts, the Indian Navy collaborated with Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. to revise the fuel specifications. The new specification surpasses international norms and includes reduced sulphur content which in the long run will reduce emissions levels as well as maintenance requirements onboard. The Indian Navy has voluntarily implemented all six schedules of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) regulations. All Naval ships have been fitted with MARPOL compliant pollution control equipment such as Oily Water Separators (OWS) and Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) for treating waste generated onboard. Furthermore, to ensure the maintenance of harbour waters, accelerated bioremediation technology has also been developed through the Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL), Mumbai.
Fig 2: E-Cycle Image Source: Indian Navy
Similarly, in efforts to reduce carbon footprint, measures have been brought into force for a steady increase in the utilisation of e-vehicles such as e-cycles, e-trolley and e-scooters and to gradually reduce the usage of fossil-fuel based vehicles. At the same time, to promote the cause, units observe ‘No Vehicle Days’ regularly, and the concept of a ‘Vehicle Free Base’ is also being introduced in some Naval establishments.
All naval units have adopted aggressive waste handling processes for collection, segregation and subsequent handling as per GoI green norms. An Integrated Solid Waste Management Facility (ISWMF) has been set up at Naval station, Karwar, which includes a centralised waste segregation plant, Organic Waste Converter (OWC) for wet waste and a facility to handle dry/unsegregated domestic waste. Green Initiatives of the Navy have also been augmented by afforestation and plantation drives. And in the last one year, over 16,500 trees have been planted that would mitigate an estimated 330 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide.
Community participation has played a major role in the implementation of these initiatives. Successful institution of green measures in the Navy has been possible through a self-conscious Naval community, well-aware of the necessity of environmental remediation and energy conservation.
In the long run, the Indian Navy has kept a steadfast objective towards achieving a sustainable future while incorporating steps to reduce marine pollution within its operational and strategic domains.
- Indian Navy’s Green Footprint to Its Blue Water Operations. (2020, June). Indian Navy
- Ashish Singh. (2020, June 5). Indian Navy’s Green Footprint to Its Blue Waters. The Daily Guardian. URL https://thedailyguardian.com/indian-navys-green-footprint-to-its-blue-water-operations/?amp=1
- Marine Environment Protection. Indian Coast Guard, Ministry of Defence. URL https://indiancoastguard.gov.in/content/246_3_MarineEnvironmentProtection.aspx
- Krishnakumar P.K. (2017, January). Environmental impacts on marine pollution- effects, challenges and approaches. ResearchGate Publications. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Periyadan-Krishnakumar/publication/312383577_Environmental_impacts_of_marine_pollution-_effects_challenges_and_approaches/links/5884a36492851c21ff4add8c/Environmental-impacts-of-marine-pollution-effects-challenges-and-approaches.pdf?origin=publication_detail
- Gupta S.N & Singbal S.Y.S. (1988). Marine pollution in the Indian Ocean- problems, prospects and perspectives. Journal of the Indian fisheries Association. URL https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/33719728.pdf
- Tewari P. (n.d). Marine pollution in India and Its Laws. E-Journal Legal Service India. URL https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3982-marine-pollution-in-india-and-its-laws.html